Project Canterbury

A Bishop Among His Flock

By the Rt. Rev. Ethelbert Talbot, D.D., LL.D.
Bishop of Bethlehem, U.S.A.

New York and London: Harper and Brothers, 1914.

Chapter X. The Ideal Layman

IT is not easy to draw a portrait of the ideal layman which does him adequate justice. We are devoutly thankful that his tribe is rapidly increasing. There is but little difficulty in recognizing him. In outward circumstances and conditions he may differ from his brother, who is also an ideal layman, but the same spirit animates him wherever he is found.

Our ideal layman, then, is first of all a man of God. He has experienced God's love and pardon, and to him the claims of religion are always paramount. His heart has been touched by the unspeakable love and sacrifice of the Saviour in dying for him on the cross, and his intelligence has been fascinated by the unique life and imperishable words of the Master, which have appealed to all that is noblest and best in his nature. For Jesus Christ, as the Son of God, he has conceived a passionate devotion, and he has surrendered to him the homage of his soul. Henceforth no one can doubt that our layman's life is hid with Christ in God.

Again, our ideal layman is an intelligent Churchman, and he therefore loves the Church with a loyalty that governs and controls and touches and molds his life in all directions. The Church is his spiritual mother. Her Scriptural faith and Apostolic order, her life-giving Sacraments, her reverent and devout worship, her Christian year, her eventful history connecting him with Christ and the Holy Apostles--all this rich heritage not only appeals to his imagination, but commands the allegiance of his whole heart.

But just because our ideal layman is so strong in his convictions as a Churchman, and is so able to give a reason for the faith that is in him, and is so grateful that God has called him into the communion and fellowship of the Catholic Church, we find that he loves all men who acknowledge Christ as God and Saviour. His attitude toward all who love Christ in sincerity is ever fraternal and kindly. He makes allowance for the accidents of birth and education and environment which go so far to explain the differences which separate Christian men to-day. He loves to dwell on the points of agreement in the great fundamentals between the Church and other religious bodies and to minimize the difference in things not vital. In this tender regard for the opinion of others our ideal layman shows himself a Christian gentleman, careful to avoid all occasion of giving offense, and considerate of the prejudices of others, while endeavoring to have an open mind himself.

In his Christian life and behavior he impresses you as a man who finds great happiness and comfort and peace in his religion. He recalls Saint Paul's injunction to "rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice." He is a cheerful Christian, and it is an essential part of his creed that if any man has a right to be happy it is a disciple of Jesus Christ. Thus his influence radiates and spreads like a contagion and warms and cheers and helps all who are brought in contact with him. He is often a robust and manly personality, and is very far removed from your type of namby-pamby or goody-goody Christians. He possesses a charm which makes him a companion to men as men.

He is not averse to innocent pleasures or games or outdoor exercises. He loves nature, and sees in our beautiful world unmistakable evidence of the handiwork of God. To him the sunset and the hills and valleys, the flowers and the waving fields of golden grain, speak eloquently of the loving care and providence of the All-Father, who hath made all things good.

But it is in his home that you shall see our ideal layman in his truest character. In the sanctuary of the family circle he is a genial presence. His children learn to love God, not because their father is always telling them to do so, but because they discern instinctively how lovable and bright and attractive a thing religion is as seen in his daily life among them.

Our ideal layman sometimes has a little sanctuary for prayer and worship in his home, and occasionally one finds an altar there around which he gathers his dear ones for praise and intercession. The simple grace at meals and many another act of devotion make it evident that our layman lives constantly in an atmosphere of habitual dependence on God.

He is always a trusted friend of his rector, whoever the rector may be. He never speaks of his clergyman in terms other than those of affection mingled with reverence for his sacred office. He would be shocked to hear a word of flippant criticism or unkindly disparagement uttered in his presence about a priest of God. He observes the same attitude of reverence about the Bible, the Sacraments, the house of God, and all holy things. It is sometimes noticed that when he passes a church he removes his hat. You would hardly observe it unless your attention had been drawn to it. If, as is often the case, our ideal layman is the warden of the parish or a member of the vestry, every one who knows him soon learns that he feels highly honored to hold such a place of confidence and sacred trust. He keeps every engagement to attend vestry meetings and to discharge his official duty in the Church, allowing nothing to interfere. Sometimes, like Mr. Gladstone, with the Bishop's license, he reads the lessons at morning and evening prayer, and he performs this duty with such reverent demeanor and simplicity as to make it obvious that he appreciates it as a high privilege. He is most conscientious in his almsgiving. If he is possessed of large means it will be found that he gives, always unostentatiously, according to his ability. If he has little, he will give gladly of that little.

He is most careful to see that all matters pertaining to the salary of his rector are delicately and properly attended to. He realizes, and tries by his influence to make all the people feel that whatever is given for this purpose is at best a meager and inadequate recognition to God for all the spiritual gifts, above money and above price, received through His ordained ambassador.

He knows also and rejoices in the fact that his parish is but a small part of the great Church to which we all belong. He sees in the diocese, presided over by his Bishop, the unifying bond which connects him, first, with his own national Church, and through that with the great Catholic body throughout the world. He may therefore always be counted upon as a loyal supporter of the Bishop in all his efforts throughout the diocese, to extend the Church and build up the Kingdom of God in the places where it needs to be helped and strengthened. In other words, he is out-and-out a missionary, and one of his strongest convictions is that every converted man and woman is, in spirit at least, a missionary. He may not go in person to China or Japan, or Africa or the Philippines, to carry the Gospel thither, but through his prayers and gifts and sympathetic interests he is fully identified with the missionary cause at home and abroad.

His chief reason and encouragement in helping on the cause of diocesan missions is that the diocese may constantly become stronger and more able to help in carrying the glad tidings of the Gospel of peace throughout the world. He would be greatly mortified to belong to a parish that did not meet promptly its apportionments for diocesan and general missions, and as a vestryman he sees to it that these obligations are placed on the budget as a sacred part of the parish work.

He welcomes every opportunity to have the people educated to take a personal interest in what he considers the great work for which Christ, the first Missionary, came down from Heaven--namely, the work of making known the love of God by proclaiming the Gospel of peace and reconciliation.

It is a delight to see our ideal layman when Sunday comes. He begins the happy day by making his early communion at the quiet morning hour when the world is hushed and the voice of God is so distinctly audible. He says he loves this service above all others. It seems to him such a privilege thus to meet his Lord in this Blessed Sacrament of love. It is a matter of great joy to him that the number of those who come to this early service is constantly increasing. It probably has never occurred to him that his own example of faithful and never-failing regularity of attendance has brought about this gratifying change.

At morning and evening prayer he is always in his place. It often happens that strangers are in the pew of our ideal layman, for he is a man much given to hospitality, and his friends never fail to accompany him and his family to the house of God. He does not belong to that class of Churchmen whom Mr. Gladstone was wont to describe as "oncers," for his constant presence at evening prayer bears witness to his love for the Church's worship. This matter of attending the prescribed services is not only a question of taste, it has become a principle, and to him it is a test of loyalty. He thus sets an example to all in the community, young and old, of a man who finds in public worship not only an opportunity to do his duty, but an occasion of privilege and delight.

But we have by no means completed the program of our layman's Sunday. That which to him is one of the most enjoyable features of the day yet remains to be told. He knows that no part of the Church's work is more important or dearer to the Heart of the Good Shepherd than the lambs of the Fold, and so we find our ideal layman the superintendent of the Sunday-school, and he has had that honor for many years. He may be a Judge of the Supreme Court, or a United States Senator, or a great banker, or the chief merchant of the city, and so his presence in the Sunday-school makes it easier for the rector to secure teachers among the men and women of the parish. It is an honor to be asked to take a class in a Sunday-school where such a man is superintendent. If our layman is sent to the General Convention, or to the convention of his own diocese, he carries to the Counsels of the Church the same keen interest and intelligent sympathy that makes him such a power in his own parish.

He is a very busy man, carrying often heavy responsibilities as a lawyer or doctor or man of affairs, and might be thought entitled to his Sunday as a day of rest. But he will tell you that he finds Sunday not only a day of physical rest and refreshment, but an inspiration and help for the coming week. Indeed, this layman takes care that Sunday shall find him ready both in body and soul for the congenial work that awaits him.

The ideal layman takes a pride in seeing that the church and rectory, and the parish-house, and all the property and grounds of the church are kept in perfect order. He feels that nothing can be too beautiful and attractive for the house of God, and he sometimes wonders why men who take care to adorn and enrich their own homes should allow the house of God to be neglected.

The rector finds this layman most helpful in interesting people in the Church. Not only does he welcome the stranger when he comes to God's house, and make him feel at home, but he brings at once to the knowledge of the rector the arrival of new families in the parish, and considers it his duty to call on them himself and assure them how gladly they will be welcomed at church.

It is hardly necessary to say that such a layman as we have been describing never fails to give his rector his hearty support in conducting the services reverently and impressively, and that he fully realizes that in all things spiritual his clergyman is solely responsible.

In short, without obtrusiveness, or the least semblance of officious domination, this good layman wins friends for his Master, and by his example and influence commends the Church to the respect and confidence of the community. In the portrait which we have drawn of the ideal layman we have pictured him as sometimes a vestryman, or officer in the Church, but before closing this chapter we wish to pay our tribute of love, honor, and respect to that large body of faithful laymen who have no office, but serve in the rank and file of the Church's army with rare devotion and fidelity. They are the pride and backbone of every Church, and they would all join with me, could they speak, in thanking God that in the good days in which we are now living the Master is calling into His service a constantly increasing number of men whose influence in the world of society and business count for much.

Our ideal layman has recently been made most happy that his only son, who has just graduated at college with distinguished honors, has applied to the bishop to be admitted a candidate for Holy Orders. In his opinion there is no calling on earth which offers to-day such a field of happy and useful service to our fellow-men and is so deserving of reverence and honor as that of a minister of Christ and a steward of the mysteries of God.

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